WAILUKU - Citing concerns about traffic and safety, county officials announced that the county-sanctioned "Fourth Friday" Paia town party is over.
"We feel the party is not the right fit for Paia," said county Office of Economic Development Coordinator Teena Rasmussen, quoting from a letter sent to Paia merchants Friday.
The county is now exploring opportunities with the Kihei community that has shown interest in hosting a Friday party, Rasmussen said at a news conference in the Mayor's Conference Room on Friday afternoon.
The county will be speaking with Kihei merchants and the community at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Kihei Charter Middle School.
For now, there are no Fourth Friday parties scheduled for September and October, Rasmussen said.
Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone said the change was necessary because there are no alternatives to deal with traffic and pedestrian safety in Paia town. Unlike other Friday party locations, none of the main thoroughfares in Paia town - Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue - can be closed for the event.
After Paia's last Fourth Friday event in August, a Maui police officer got caught on a fleeing suspect's vehicle and was dragged 15 to 20 feet before he was able to free himself. He suffered a head bruise, a concussion, a scrape to his arm and pain to his body on the night of Aug. 24. He has not yet returned to full duty, police said.
When contacted Friday afternoon, Paia Town Merchants Association Executive Director Rose Potter and board member Daniel Sullivan said that they were not disappointed that the party was on the move out of their town. In fact, the Paia merchants said they were tired of running the party financially and physically on their own.
"Honestly, in one way, the event had gotten very large for Paia," said Sullivan, the owner of Indigo in Paia. "We weren't able to block the street."
Sullivan added that the merchants association had run out of money for the parties. Because they spent the money for the Fourth Friday events, they were strapped for cash to organize their own town events.
"We ran out of money paying for the off-duty police officers for the event. We didn't have money for the town functions . . . It's been hard on Paia town," Sullivan said, noting that he had to pick up rubbish on Saturdays after the parties because the county did not do so.
"It wasn't a formula that was working for Paia," Potter echoed.
She said she was horrified to hear about the incident with the officer. These are not the type of incidents or crowds that she wants to attract to the town.
In November, the county launched "Maui Friday Town Parties," an initiative to re-create the success that Paia and Wailuku towns had in attracting locals and visitors for a night out on the small towns.
Wailuku maintained its "First Friday" spot; "Second Friday" went to Lahaina; and "Third Friday" went to Makawao.
The county Office of Economic Development launched a new website and logos for the parties. That's about all the county did, Sullivan said.
He and Potter said they didn't get financial support for the parties, and the hiring of off-duty officers as directed under the county program was expensive.
When Paia merchants ran their own successful Friday parties, off-duty police were not hired; the merchants policed the event, said Sullivan. They were able to do so because the event was smaller, he added.
After the news conference, Antone said that the county's initiative was not to fund the parties but to assist the merchants with coordinating the events. He noted that the established First Friday party in Wailuku is not staged with county funding.
Rasmussen said the county initiative included an "umbrella marketing campaign," and her office has logged thousands of hours working with merchants. She said the county did offer in-kind support for lighting and for police for road closures for the parties.
To date, she said, "no extra funding" has been given to the towns for the parities.
But in the near future, the towns will be able to apply for one-time grants because the towns need funding to grow their events. Makawao town will be eligible for $20,000; Lahaina, $10,000; and the community that takes over the Fourth Friday party, $20,000.
Lahaina will receive less than other towns because Lahaina already receives assistance from the county for events such as Halloween, she said. The Wailuku town party will not get a grant because it receives funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Rasmussen said the county will continue to help Paia in other ways, such as assisting with ocean sporting competitions on the north shore.
The Paia party under the county's oversight became a burden, said Potter.
The merchants association hired four to five off-duty police officers for six to seven Fridays but for the August event were told to hire 11 officers. The merchants could not afford the additional officers, Potter said.
At the Fourth Friday party in August, there ended up being 23 officers on duty, some on overtime and others brought in from other areas to help, she said.
Potter said many jaywalking tickets were handed out "without warning or education" that night.
"After that, I had no support for Fourth Friday (from the merchants)," Potter said.
Sullivan noted that many families and visitors were the ones cited.
Police Capt. Clarence Kenui, commander of the Central Maui Patrol District, said that during the Fourth Friday party in August more police were present because of problems police had "experienced with disruptive and unruly behavior during the previous Friday Town Party event that was held a month earlier."
"Because the event is held on a major highway, there had been numerous complaints from motorists of the dangers caused by pedestrians entering the roadway and not using the crosswalks. These actions were taken to provide for the safety and well-being of everyone attending this event," Kenui said in an email.
Sullivan said that when the county corralled four towns under the "Maui Friday Town Parties" banner last year,
Paia had already had a successful Fourth Friday party on its own.
He noted that the town was able to handle the crowds on their own when the town oversaw the events.
But when the county took oversight of the event, "it got worse and worse," Sullivan said.
He added that the merchants will continue to hold their own events in the north shore town.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.